Wu: Rest in peace, my friend

Goodbye, Mr. Fuentes.

I apologize in advance for this, if it does not make sense, as I have not been able to put through one coherent thought.

May 18, the day he died, was one of the most difficult of my life.

Check that — the last week has been one of the most difficult of my life.

Twenty-seven years ago, the first night my father had gone out that entire summer, was the first night I felt a sense a relief. I thought everything was going to be OK.

But that false hope was quickly dashed when I awakened to the horrible sounds of ambulances and the EMTs unsuccessfully trying to resuscitate my father.

Four years ago, sitting in the same office in which I am now sitting, I received the phone call that my friend Tom Fuentes was going to receive his liver transplant, and I felt a very similar sense of relief. But just like that night 27 years ago, that false hope was dashed.

Instead of the instant despair of an immediate heart attack, the liver cancer and lung cancer, rediscovered in March 2011, over the next 14 months slowly and painfully extinguished the bright light that was Tom.

And the grief I feel is indescribable.

By now you have probably read about the man, his family and his accomplishments in numerous publications like the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register, and in countless blogs. He was the highly influential chairman of the Orange County Republican Party from 1985 to 2004.

I too am reminded of the living, and loving, tribute I wrote to my mentor and friend last August in the Newport Beach Independent. I wanted to make sure that the words of thanks would be heard in his living ears, instead of being read after the fact.

But to recap, in the absence of a father figure for the past 27 years, I have eagerly sought out mentors in my adult life. Tom was one of them.

While most everyone knew Tom as a political figure, our relationship expanded way past that. In the 10 years I knew him, we never really spoke more than a few words about politics.

Tom guided me during my wedded years, through the birth of my triplets, through my divorce and up to my newly adjusted life, with joint custody, child support and my fiancée.

He always made time for me. He always calmed me with his presence and words of advice. I am a better person today because of it.

Over the past year, I had the privilege of sitting by his bedside as he lay in hospice care, continuing to learn from him.

But as my visits went on, the tide seemed to turn a bit as he requested things from me. He asked for information about his illness from my nurse fiancée. He asked that I help guide his older son T.J. as he embarks on his political career.

And after death, he asked that I be a pallbearer at his funeral. But the thing I could not grant was to be there when he was placed in the ground — that would be too much for me to bear.

It makes me sad to think that I will no longer be receiving any emails from Tom.

It makes me sad to think that I will no longer share my time with Tom.

It makes me sad to think that I will no longer hear absolutely crazy stories.

And I am truly afraid now, for the second time in my life.

So much has changed in my life since I met Tom, and he has guided me through all of it. Who will guide me now?

It was only because of Tom that I stayed involved with the Republican Party of Orange County and in the California Republican Party. Now there is no reason for me to go.

But damn his request that I guide T.J. through the political waters, because I'm sure T.J. will want to attend these activities, and damn him if he thinks I'm going to let him go without me.

I suppose what Tom has now taught me is that it's time to grow up, stop being his student and now teach his own son.

But again, he will not be there to guide me properly. So how will I know that I'm doing the right thing?

This week has been the most difficult in 27 years because my rock, to which I have so desperately clung, is now gone, and perhaps I am realizing that I need to start being that same rock for others.

Perhaps it is ironic that I learned of Tom's passing while my 5-year-old son was bouncing and jumping in my lap.

It was an honor to know Tom, to call him my friend, to be a pallbearer at his funeral.

Thank you, my friend. Rest in peace.

Addendum: As an end note, to show the strength of the Fuentes family through this, I received a call from T.J. Fuentes on Thursday and from Jolene Fuentes on Friday, just to make sure I was OK.

JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at jack@wubell.com.

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